James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.
Gunning and Miles
If Dave Gunning had a motto it would be “There’s a song in there somewhere.”
In mid October 2008, I was in Cape Breton for the Celtic Colours Festival. Artistic Director Joella Foulds had invited six writers to collaborate on the creation of an evening worth of music. She put us in a house on the main street of Baddeck. We had a week to write somewhere between 12 and 16 songs, all on the theme of homecoming.
The writers were Rose Cousins, David Francey, Lori Watson, Karine Polwart, Dave Gunning and yours truly – James Keelaghan.
We took turns writing in pairs. When Dave Gunning and I got together, I asked him if he had any specific ideas. “Yeah,” he said, “I’d like to write a hanging song.”
I was a bit taken aback. Death on a gallows is not what springs to mind when I think of homecoming songs. While there are some great hanging songs- Long Black Veil and The Night Before Larry Was Stretched come to mind, I think its fair to say the form has long fallen out of fashion.
Over the next two days, we would revisit the hanging tune, and each time the song became more real. Dave found a path that led from homecoming to hanging, creating a totally believable story. On the Wednesday it was finished.
Dave sang the song in the first set of the concert in Sydney. The Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia was in the front row. During the song, she sat bolt upright, her eyes firmly set on Dave. She was totally involved, not moving a muscle.
During the break in the green room, the LG was announced. When she came into the room she made a bee line for Dave, shook his hand and gushed,“ I certainly wasn’t expecting a hanging song!”
There’s a couple of reasons why Dave can get even the Vice Regal representative excited about a hanging song. He has a keen eye for a good story and he’s utterly charming on stage and off.
Tall and gangly in the way that men from Pictou County are, he’s your little brother. He’s every mother’s son. He’s the guy that makes you party too late and the guy who just played you a hanging song and made you believe it. If I was him, I would have already turned this article into a song.
That week remains one of the highlights of my life.
Since that experience, I play a little game with myself. I imagine which writers I with whom I would love to be locked up with – if the chance every came again. As always, topping my list is Lynn Miles.
The problem with the term singer songwriter is its over-use. Some people are great singers but mediocre songwriters. Some are great songwriters, but don’ t really have the pipes needed to be a good singer.
Then there are the rare few that actually live up to being truly both singer and songwriter
Lynn’s voice is eternally youthful, packed with emotion and colour that can only come from years of experience. If she didn’t write, I’d go to hear her sing other people’s songs.
The songs she writes are razor sharp. There’s not a wasted note or lyric.
Lynn has that rare ability to take the personal and make it universal. She can also step into a character sing about more than herself.
In her mournful mining ballad, “Black Flowers” she sums up the desolation of a mining town by observing:
The Undertaker, he’s a busy man
He’s got a clean blue shirt
He’s got soft pink hands
He’s got a paved driveway
And a brand new car
And Black Flowers grow in my yard.
Verses like that are the reason that I would love to spend a week in a house with her, figuring out how she manages to distill something that profound into 36 words.
It’s not the only reason. She is also great company. She’s well read, a great conversationalist and has a quick dry wit. As a friend of mine once said,
“ She’s wicked smart!”
You’ll want to see Lynn and Dave on the main stage, but you shouldn’t miss them in workshops. Allow yourself the pleasure of seeing them in a spontaneous setting where the unexpected can happen. They will not disappoint.
Summerfolk is proud to welcome two of Canada’s finest singer songwriters to Owen Sound.
For more information please visit us at www.summerfolk.org
Visit Lynn at www.lynnmilesmusic.com
Visit Dave at www.davegunning.com